Earlier this week, Politico owner Robert Allbritton surprised the media world with his purchase of Capital New York, a website that has tried to replicate the best of The New York Observer in a digital-only format. Now, in an interview with Digiday, Politico editor Jim VandeHei, who will head the Manhattan-based operation, outlines his vision for Capital New York, which he surely hopes will be as disruptive to The New York Times as Politico has been to The Washington Post.
Thus far, a single quote — one that seems at odds with Politico's overall outlook — has captured the attention of media watchers:
A barb against BuzzFeed has raised eyebrows, too:
But there are plenty of other goodies to be gleaned from VandeHei's conversation with Josh Sternberg, including the assertion that New York is a "ripe target" for Politico. VandeHei explains:
The state and city are full of voracious, sophisticated readers who are willing to pay for content if it is high quality and essential.
That seems to suggest that VandeHei is contemplating a paywall or metered access, which neither Politico nor Capital New York currently has. Of course, people will only pay for quality goods — and VandeHei is not shy about calling his media properties precisely that. "The only way to change reader habits is to provide something so irresistible that they have no choice but to switch," he says.
Not only does VandeHei plan to hire perhaps as many as two dozen writers and editors, but he tells Sternberg that Capital New York will sponsor events "built around our reporting franchises." Sponsoring events has been a fraught enterprise for journalistic outlets, but it is a potentially lucrative one.
Most interesting, however, is VandeHei's claim that it's not all about the numbers. That runs contrary to the belief that Politico is successful largely because it manages to relentlessly beat its competitors to the punch. Its newsroom has even been compared to The Hunger Games for its intensity.
Yet VandeHei offers a thoughtful assessment in his Digiday interview:
High traffic is way overrated. It works if you are truly a traffic hose, like BuzzFeed. But, for speciality sites, it is all about the right readers. The advertisers we want are the knowing ones seeking to influence a very attractive and hard-to-reach set of readers. If we deliver those readers, the traffic numbers will mean little.
He says also that "Politico is defined less by speed than its overall obsession with excellence and expertise."
Asked if Politico would also expand to markets like Los Angeles, VandeHei dodged the question — thus leaving open that intriguing possibility.